Even thought this is DIYMarketers and I advocate doing most things yourself. That doesn’t mean you should shy away from getting professional help — the marketing kind, that is.

My goal at DIYMarketers is to guide you through the process of having big marketing results on a low budget, and believe it or not, hiring a professional marketing firm is often your lowest cost option.

What does a marketing firm do?

Notice, I didn’t use the word advertising agency. They are often one and the same, but a marketing firm should offer you a little more than just creative input. They may offer you some additional services such as market and customer research or product and offering development. Those are often two technical marketing areas that advertising agencies don’t feature.

In a recent AMEX Open Forum article, I outlined a fairly simple process you can use to choose a marketing firm or ad agency.

1. Create a spreadsheet

I’ve created a quick and dirty template for selecting an ad agency that you can download. When you open the template, you can customize it for yourself by adding your own criteria and then inserting the ad agencies that you are considering.

2. List your criteria of what’s important to you

Do you want your agency to be local? In my friend?s case, this was very important. They are a local bank and they wanted to support local businesses. Another way you might want to do this is to ask yourself what you need to be successful. Do you need next day turnaround? Do you need them to have Web design capability? Open your spreadsheet and put these items in the first column.

3. Make a short list

Your short list can come from a variety of sources. Get referrals and take a look at companies whose marketing materials and strategy you admire and ask them who their agency is. Select no more than five agencies and list them across the columns at the top.

4. Weight the importance of each item

In the second column, give a weight to how important each of these items is to you in your decision. You can use any scale you like; 1-5 or 1-10. If you know that you always have last minute projects that need fast turnaround and you want an agency that turns work around quickly, give that a weight of 10.

5. Meet them in person

Here is where my advice differs from the standard practice: DO NOT ask them to come in and present. Even if they beg and plead, just say no. Schedule a meeting and meet with the owner if it’s a smaller firm or a senior account manager if it’s a larger firm. At this meeting you get to know each other and you will use your spreadsheet to ask them questions about the items that are on their list.

6. Rate their capabilities against your list

No matter where you meet, the agency will certainly bring a portfolio. Since you’ve been researching the agency, you’ve probably seen much of their work already, so now you’re looking to see how well they perform in real life against your requirements. This process will save you hours of time in boring meetings and will save the agency hours of time preparing presentations that may or may not meet your needs.

7. Choose

After you’ve met with all the agencies on your requirements and rated them, you’ll have a guide to choose the one that works best for you.

I’m sure that you will get your spreadsheet results and maybe think, “I wish agency ‘A’ rated better.” That tells you that there is something about agency A? that you really like. Use the sheet to help you decide, but not?get?you to decide and hopefully this process will make it easy and your decision clear to you and your team.